Although we dress, butter, crisp and crust white potatoes into countless different dishes, we force false humility onto its sister vegetable, the sweet potato. And for no good reason, for with its golden bronze color and rich sweet flavor, the sweet potato is the most innately exciting of all the potatoes.
One nice thing that has recently happened to the sweet potato is that at least two Washington restaurants have started french frying them, and have discovered that French Fried Sweet Potatoes are a hit. At one of those restaurants, Wolensky's, the fries are accompanied by a small cup of raspberry vinegar for dipping. Although using vinegar on fries may seem a little odd, in England it's the norm; that elegant touch is vastly more respectful of the sweet potato than ketchup ever could be.
Along lines similar to the french fry is the following recipe in which sweet potatoes are microwaved, giving them a firm, creamy texture, then refrigerated until cold and firm, and finally saute'ed in thick slices until a regal golden hue develops. Although they would be delicious at this point with just a little salt and pepper, they are superb with a Tarragon Aioli, the boldest of all French sauces, really just a garlic mayonnaise to which is added heaps of fresh tarragon. At the table, pass the aioli in a sauceboat so it can be spooned over the potatoes.
Serve these potatoes with broiled or grilled steaks or chops, with roast beef, a roasted rack or leg of lamb, or with a simply roasted chicken and green vegetable.
SAUTEED SWEET POTATOES (4 servings)
4 medium sweet potatoes (purchase ones that are as evenly cylindrical in shape as possible to insure even cooking in the microwave)
1/4 cup oil
Arrange the sweet potatoes like spokes on a plate and microwave on high until a toothpick inserted into the thickest part of the largest sweet potato indicates that it is just barely tender, about 12 minutes. Turn the potatoes over once, midway through the cooking, so the moisture that accumulates between the bottom of the potato and the plate isn't able to turn the bottom of the sweet potato soft and mushy. If your microwave does not have a rotator, you will have to rotate the sweet potatoes in the cavity at the same time. When the sweet potatoes test tender, remove and place, uncovered, in the refrigerator. Prepare the aioli (recipe follows) while the potatoes cook. Both should be refrigerated overnight. Just before serving, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in each of 2 large frying pans (or you can saute' the potatoes in 2 batches, keeping the first batch warm in the oven while the second is fried) set over medium high heat. When very hot, add the sweet potatoes in a single uncramped layer and cook until deeply browned, lowering the heat slightly to insure that the sweet potatoes color evenly without burning. Turn 2 or 3 times so both sides of the potatoes are perfectly colored. Be careful when turning the potatoes, for as they are heated they become more tender and sometimes break apart. Lift them out of the pan with a spatula.
Serve hot with tarragon aioli passed separately. Note: Although I have specified microwaving the potatoes because I think that produces the finest texture in sweet potatoes for this dish, certainly you can boil them until just tender. TARRAGON AIOLI (Makes about 1 1/2 cups)
1 whole egg
1 cup olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup gently packed fresh tarragon leaves
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In the bowl of a food processor, process the egg (for at least 30 seconds) while you measure the olive oil into a liquid measuring cup. Through the feed tube, pour the oil into the spinning egg in a very thin stream. When all the oil has been absorbed and a thick mayonnaise has formed, add the garlic and process, pulsing as needed, until garlic is pure'ed into the sauce. Add the lemon juice and tarragon and pulse until the tarragon is finely chopped. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Process for a couple of seconds to combine.
Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to develop.
Note: If fresh tarragon is not available, substitute 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley mixed with 2 tablespoons of lightly crushed, dried tarragon for the half cup of fresh tarragon in the recipe.